When Reverend Mary Gene Boteler of Second Presbyterian Church first noticed that a small yard sign saying "Black Lives Matter" was missing from one of the church's green spaces, she had several thoughts. The first was that someone in the neighborhood hadn't agreed with the phrase's political sentiment -- "Black Lives Matter" has become an iconic message against police brutality, emblazoned on signs at marches around the country. The second was more optimistic -- someone had stolen it in order to put it up in his own yard.
But then she started hearing from other church leaders.
"As I hear others having their signs stolen, it seems it may be a concerted effort for folks to drive through areas and pick up the signs," she says. "A concerted effort by people to end the conversation."
The person who wrenched down the sign at First Congregational Church of St. Louis in Clayton had to put even more work into it -- theirs was tethered to a metal readerboard on the corner of Wydown and University Lane in Clayton.
"We do get mail complaining about the banner, saying 'Black Lives Matter is not saying all lives matter, so it's against Jesus,'" says Reverend Heather Arcovitch.
The third church that's been hit is First Unitarian Church of St. Louis on the corner of Waterman and Kingshighway. The signs began disappearing sometime last week.
Within her mostly white congregation the banner has stirred mixed feelings, Arcovitch says. But the church was founded 150 years ago as an abolitionist organization, and she believes that displaying the sign and participating in protests in Ferguson continues that mission of inclusiveness.
"This message is provocative for some white people. Members of the congregation will say, 'Shouldn't we say a more moderate message that opens conversations with people rather than turning people away?'" says Arcovitch. "We're not aiming this message just at white people, we're aiming this message at our black brothers and sisters... to know they have an ally in a white, affluent community. It's really there more for that then it is for the white people."
Anecdotally, both ministers have also heard from congregants that "Black Lives Matter" signs are disappearing off the lawns of private residences.
Arcovitch responded by putting another "Black Lives Matter" sign in front of the church, and writing "You Can Steal Our Banner But Black Lives Still Matter" on the readerboard. What she did not do is call the police.
"I think that whoever stole the sign is a person in pain, too," she says.
Boteler -- whose congregation is more racially mixed -- hopes that the thefts backfire on whoever is trying to "end the conversation."
"Black lives still matter whether the signs are taken or not," she says. "I hope the disappearance of the sign will be another wake up call for the community and be a reminder of the disappearance of so many black lives."
Has your "Black Lives Matter" sign been stolen? Let us know. Or hey, are YOU stealing the signs? Give us a shout -- we're more interested in why you're doing it than turning you in.
Email feedback or tips to the author at Jessica.Lussenhop@RiverfrontTimes.com.